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Used Cars (1980)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/8/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/16/2014
When we think of a raunchy comedy today, the word "teen" usually gets inserted in there thanks to the success of 1999's American Pie and the imitators which came in its wake. Of course, this was only mimicking a trend which we saw in the early 80s with the release of Porky's (although most of the "teens" in that film were nearly 30 years old). Prior to that, many of the more outlandish comedies were actually made for adult audiences, and by that I mean that the characters in the films were adults and they were dealing with adult problems. (While we still get some of those movies today, they aren't as prevalent as I would like.) 1980's Used Cars was one of the last pre-Porky's movies which dealt with grown-up issues (in a very immature way) and it's now getting the Blu-ray Disc treatment from Twilight Time.
Kurt Russell stars in Used Cars as Rudy Russo, a slick huckster used car salesman who works at New Deal Used Cars, which is owned by Luke Fuchs (Jack Warden). Luke is in competition with his twin brother, Roy (also Warden), who has a lot right across the street. Rudy's dream is to be a senator and he's attempting to save enough money to "buy" his way into the election. His idea of saving money is to pull off as many cheap publicity stunts for the car lot as possible. When Luke's bad heart gives out on him, Rudy and fellow salesman, Jeff (Gerrit Graham), along with mechanic, Jim (Frank McRae), decide to cover up the death (as this would allow Roy to inherit the lot) and really go nuts with their publicity schemes, which involve cutting into local television broadcasts with outrageous commercials. But, when Luke's daughter (Deborah Harmon) comes to town, Rudy may have to change his ways.
Used Cars was one of those "taboo" films which I remember my friends whispering about after they'd caught it on HBO (cable + lax parenting = massive viewings of inappropriate movies). I can recall seeing bits and pieces of the film, but I don't think that I'd ever seen the entire thing until now. Despite the fact that Kurt Russell became a pretty big star after its release, Used Cars became pretty obscure for some reason. After Director/Co-writer Robert Zemeckis became an Oscar winner, one would have thought that Used Cars would have been ripe for re-discovery, but you seldom hear it discussed.
This may be because, when viewed today, the movie comes across as uneven. This was only Zemeckis' second feature film, and one gets the feeling that he was still getting the hang of pacing, as the movie's 113 minute running time seems pretty extreme. The "raunchy" part of the comedy comes more from the constant profanity (which, for the time, was fairly excessive) than the other content, as there is only scant nudity and only a few sexual references. The angle in which Rudy suddenly wants to impress Deborah is a bit cliched and it isn't helped by the fact that Deborah's character is under-developed. Equally vague is the whole thing with the Fuchs' twins and their competing dealerships.
The movie is also hindered by the fact that for a stupid comedy, Used Cars contains some unusual ideas, some of which were ahead of its time. Of course, this really isn't surprising given that Zemeckis and Gale would make Back to the Future just a few years later. Today, the notion of hacking into a TV broadcast doesn't seem the least bit far-fetched, but it's interesting to see this presented in a movie from 1980, especially when they tap into a national broadcast (they being Michael McKean and David Lander AKA Lenny and Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley). The second half of the film hinges on a sabotaged video tape and a math problem, not necessarily the ingredients for great comedy. Also, the notion that Rudy wants to be a senator is introduced early on and it seems odd that someone as lowbrow as Rudy would have political ambitions.
This is not to say that Used Cars is a complete failure. The movie has some funny moments, but it simply isn't consistently funny. The cast is certainly game, and Graham, whose career never really took off, truly goes for it in the second commercial. The real appeal of Used Cars is watching the then 29-year old Russell really making an attempt to pull away from his Disney roots. (Of course, his next role, Snake Plissken in 1981's Escape from New York, would solidify this move.) The chain-smoking Rudy Russo certainly isn't The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes. Used Cars works as a time-capsule, but it's not a great example of a wacky comedy from the period.
Used Cars isn't afraid to trot out Grandpa Munster on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Twilight Time. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain and no overt defects from the source materials. The team at Twilight Time has done a great job with this transfer, as the movie doesn't look like it's 34 years old. The colors look fine and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail, which is good, benefits from the crisp transfer. However, the image does look somewhat flat at times. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely done, as there are many moments where cars leave or enter the screen, and we can hear the movement in the front channels. However, I didn't detect much in the way of surround sound or subwoofer effects. In the end, the audio is fine, just don't expect dynamic audio effects.
The Used Cars Blu-ray Disc contains several extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Robert Zemeckis, Writer Bob Gale, and Kurt Russell. "Gag Reel & Outtakes" offers 4-minutes worth of blown lines and unused shots. "Kurt Russell Darner Chrysler Commercial (32 seconds) shows the actor doing a promotional spot for a lot which was used in the film. "Kurt Russell Radio Interview" (5 minutes) is an archive chat with the star. We get seven RADIO SPOTS which run about 8 minutes. The ORIGINAL THEATRICAL TRAILER is also included. There are four photo GALLERIES: "Action and Stunts", "Unused Ad Concepts", "Behind the Scenes", and "Posters and Lobby Cards". The Disc offers two "Isolated Scores", one of which is the music heard in the film, with the other being the unused score.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long